AN OBSERVER BEST DEBUT NOVELIST OF 2021
'I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear’s wife. I am here.'
Word has come. Care-bent King Lear is dead, driven mad and betrayed. His three daughters too, broken in battle. But someone has survived: Lear’s queen. Exiled to a nunnery years ago, written out of history, her name forgotten. Now she can tell her story.
Though her grief and rage may threaten to crack the earth open, she knows she must seek answers. Why was she sent away in shame and disgrace? What has happened to Kent, her oldest friend and ally? And what will become of her now, in this place of women? To find peace she must reckon with her past and make a terrible choice – one upon which her destiny, and that of the entire abbey, rests.
Giving unforgettable voice to a woman whose absence has been a tantalising mystery, Learwife is a breathtaking novel of loss, renewal and how history bleeds into the present.
‘With Learwife, J.R. Thorp has created an entire world out of a void. A stunning voice, hers is one you will remember, and look out for, in the years to come’
JING-JING LEE, author of the Women’s Prize-longlisted HOW WE DISAPPEARED
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 16 members
This is simply an extraordinary piece of writing. It's the sort of fiction that needs to be experienced rather than read - it appeals, at least in my case, not so much to my head as to something far more visceral. It entrances like a piece of music, a sophisticated fragrance, an abstract poem. I didn't know what was going on for swathes of the narrative but that doesn't seem to matter, at least in part, because story or plot isn't the main thrust of the writing. That said, this is a piece that is anchored in King Lear, though a Christianised Lear where there is a nunnery in which the narrator has dwelled for fifteen years while the events of the play take place beyond her knowledge. There is Kent, and the Fool; there is Lear; perhaps most of all there are the three daughters, all dead now: Goneril, Reagan and Cordelia. In part this touches on some of those perpetual enigmas from the play, but it also uses the motifs of the storm and savagery; of madness; weaves in key lines, Nothing will come of nothing... I will not see their like again; and ends with a kind of peace that is simultaneously survival and death. And at times the voice of the Learwife herself made me think of Plath's equally extraordinary Lady Lazarus. I'd say this is too long given the focus on experience rather than narrative, but the writing is truly exceptional - one of those books where I finished it and wanted to turn right back to the beginning and start it all over again.
This is an ARC review for Netgalley. Oh my goodness what a book. This novel is written from the point of view of King Lear's wife. It is definitely a slow burner and a heavy read so may not be to everyone's taste but I enjoyed it immensely. The imagery and prose is of great depth and what a protagonist! The initial chapters focus mainly on the present in which the exiled Queen is living exiled in a nunnery. Gradually we get more and more glimpses of her past and hints of the reason she was exiled and the relationships that formed the woman we hear. The Queen is a fascinating character of great depth, intelligence and inner conflicts with a strong narrative voice. It may lag at times but overall a stunning read
Firstly thank you to NetGalley and Canongate Books for an ARC of Learwife in exchange for an honest review. Oh. My. GOD! I loved this book so much. It's the story of Shakespeare's King Lear's wife, who remains unnamed for much of the novel. It tells her story of life in the nunnery to where she was banished years before Lear's death, as well as flashing back to periods in her life as a young wife and mother to her three daughters. Sometimes I had to reread small sections just to get my bearings, especially towards the end as 'her' confusion and madness grabs hold of her. But the gist is that she doesn't know why she was sent away from Lear; what her supposed crime was. But she's trying to get away, back to visit the graves of her husband and her girls, in a time when disease strikes the nunnery and they are all forced to quarantine (topical, right?), deaths are rampant with even the abess losing her life. It's up to Lear's wife to choose her replacement, who would be most likely to release her? This is not a book to race through. This is a book to curl up with in your favourite reading spot and savour the delicious poetic imagery conjured up by the author. Initially I wasn't sure that I would like it, I thought it might be a bit too heavy for me. I haven't read King Lear and don't even know what happens but this doesn't matter. A couple of chapters in and I just connected with the prose and I just loved all of it. I'm excited to see what else JR Thorp can treat us with in the future.
I was so excited to read this King Lear inspired novel. It is beautifully written and had characters that I loved reading about especially Lear's wife. A really enjoyable feminist read that I will read more than once.
I feel like Learwife is going to be one of those books which stays with me for a long time. The writing is lyrical, heavy with imagery and a depth which is at times almost unfathomable. The protagonist, wife of Lear, is locked away in a nunnery whilst the events of the Shakespearean tragedy play out, and though those characters feature heavily, this is ultimately the story of Lear's wife, a flawed woman who has been given her own voice by Thorp. This novel gives us a snapshot of her life in the nunnery and is utterly full of intrigue, with flashbacks to her life as Queen and what led to her banishment. This is a feminist story at its core, showing the multiple sides to life as a woman: mother, daughter, wife. And this makes it a timeless story, reaching through the centuries to resonate with us today.